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EU: British Musicians

Volume 803: debated on Wednesday 3 June 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made on reaching a reciprocal agreement with the European Union to enable British musicians to tour and play in Europe following the end of the transition period.

The Question was considered in a Virtual Proceeding via video call.

The Government recognise the importance to musicians of the continued ability to tour, for both artistic and economic reasons. We are open to negotiating reciprocal arrangements to facilitate this. A reciprocal arrangement based on best precedent will mean that UK citizens will be able to undertake some business activities in the EU without a work permit on a short-term basis. The details, including the range of activities, the documentation needed and the time limit, will be negotiated.

Touring and playing in Europe are essential aspects of the livelihoods of UK musicians, as well as being vital culturally. A hard Brexit would be devastating for an industry worth £5.2 billion, without even taking into account the destructive effect that Covid is already having on musicians’ incomes. Do the Government recognise that it is therefore crucial that they negotiate a mobility framework advantageous to British musicians, including an EU-wide multi-entry touring visa valid for two years, and that this framework needs to be in place before the end of the transition period?

We absolutely recognise that musicians, and the performing arts more broadly, are a crucial part of our culture and our economy. We are working towards a reciprocal arrangement for a touring visa based on best precedent, so that UK musicians could work short term within the EU. However, we do not currently believe that a touring visa, such as the noble Earl suggests, is legally possible.

The Minister mentioned reciprocal arrangements for UK citizens, but I wonder if she could disaggregate that and concentrate only on people in the performing arts. If reciprocal arrangements are not negotiated, will she consider the UK unilaterally allowing access for EU musicians to come here, in the hope that at least individual EU countries will then reciprocate? If we wait for the arrangements for all professionals to be able to travel back and forth, it will be too late for musicians who have contracts that are signed years in advance.

I am sorry if I was not clear; I was aiming to refer specifically to those in the performing arts. There are not currently plans for a unilateral agreement. We are optimistic that we can reach an effective reciprocal agreement. We are not looking for a bespoke or unique deal. We are trying to build on existing free trade agreements and ensure that they are appropriate for our performing arts and wider service sectors.

My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of the Royal College of Music. At the end of the transition period, new customs requirements will come into force which mean that musicians will be required to purchase an ATA carnet, costing up to £700. For many musicians who struggle financially at the best of times, let alone after the disaster of Covid, that is a big cost which they will not be able to afford. Will the Government either cover the cost of these carnets or include a cultural exemption for musical instruments, so that they are not required?

My noble friend is right that the carnet can be expensive, particularly for individual musicians. That is why we are trying to negotiate a reciprocal deal, which may mean that there are new processes that musicians will have to comply with. But we hope that they will be practical and workable for them.

My Lords, the London Symphony Orchestra is one of the world’s leading orchestras and a globally recognised UK brand, making a significant contribution to the UK’s soft power. No less than 45% of its income comes from international touring. Can the Minister tell us a little more about what specifically the Government are doing to set up mutual arrangements with overseas Governments, including in the EU, to allow a return to international touring for all UK orchestras as quickly and safely as possible?

The noble Lord is right that organisations such as the London Symphony Orchestra are crucial to our soft power. We are doing everything in these negotiations, and more broadly, to build the UK’s presence globally, with help from organisations such as the Creative Industries Council and others. In relation to the particular strains due to Covid he will be aware that we have announced a cultural renewal task force, which is already busily looking at all these issues.

My Lords, I refer to my interests in the cultural and music sectors, as set out in the register. What place in the discussions so far have these issues occupied? Have they been raised in the EU discussions and does she agree that we must ensure we have the necessary time to avoid a no-deal outcome, which would harm our vital music industry as well as other important sectors of our economy?

I fear it is probably not appropriate for me to go into any detail about the nature of those negotiations. It has been said publicly that details on specific sectors will come in the next stage of the negotiations. The Prime Minister has been clear on multiple occasions as to his views on an extension to the negotiations.

My Lords, at present a system is in place that prevents the double payment of social security payments when our musicians travel to EU countries. Can the Minister assure us that her department is pressing our negotiators to ensure that any bilateral deal includes continued access to this system? Will she publish her department’s analysis of the impact of failure to obtain such an agreement?

The department is leading a major programme of work across all our sectors which is trying to ensure that they, and our arm’s-length bodies, are well prepared for the end of the transition period in relation to this point and more broadly.

My Lords, I appreciate my noble friend’s commitment but I urge her to talk to her colleagues in Cabinet and say that this is a very urgent matter. Billions of pounds are involved but, far more important than that, the reputation of our musicians is second to none. It is essential that there is uninhibited freedom for musicians from Europe to play in the United Kingdom and for United Kingdom musicians to play in Europe without having visa or financial barriers, or any other sorts of barriers. We are talking about the international language; let it be spoken loud and clear beyond the end of the transition period.

I am more than happy to share my noble friend’s advice with Cabinet colleagues. I stress that in all our negotiations we are seeking to minimise any friction through customs or other administrative issues.

My Lords, UK musicians rely on the European Health Insurance Card scheme while touring in the EU. While the negotiating mandate mentions that arrangements for healthcare cover for short-term business visitors could be good for trade, can the Minister give a concrete commitment that the Government will maintain European health insurance, as provided by the EHIC scheme, or at least provide an effective equivalent?

The Government are looking across all these issues to come up with the fairest and most practical system which facilitates the growth of our creative industries and performing arts around the world, including within the EU.

My Lords, on touring, there is actually a simple solution. The Government could consider amendments to the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill to allow a touring passport for EU musicians—including a carnet, as referred to earlier. Can the Government commit to looking at this legislative option for giving UK musicians the continued livelihood that they need?

I think I have been clear already about where the Government’s focus is in these negotiations: on building our presence, in Europe and on the global stage, for our critical cultural sectors.

My Lords, I am afraid that the time allocated for that Question has passed, so I ask the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, to ask his Question.